Photo by Rahul on Unsplash

India is the land of magnificent diversity which is reflected in different cultures, languages, beliefs, cuisines, dresses and identities, to say the least. Not only in the physical attributes but also in flora and fauna, India symbolizes breathtaking diversity. Nature has manifested itself in most bountiful ways on Indian soil. This enormous biodiversity makes every Indian proud. Different shades of biodiversity are visible in the different climatic zones existing through the length and breadth of the country. However, the glorious presence of nature everywhere on land, seas, atmosphere and even beneath the earth and water bodies, has been on the wane during the past so many decades in India due to certain reasons which are not difficult to explore. As per the data tabled in the Lok Sabha in July 2019 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, four species of fauna and 18 species of flora have gone extinct in India in the past few centuries. Further, A.A.A. Mao, Director of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) averred that India is home to 11.5 percent of all flora in the world. In a new study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature has shown that since 1750, more than double the number of plants has disappeared from the wild than birds, mammals and amphibians combined. As per the BSI's information, 18 species of plants including four non-flowering, have gone extinct. Not only this but also, according to the sixth national report (NR6) submitted to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the list of animal species from the country under the international 'red list' in the critically endangered and threatened categories has been increasing over the years. This increase shows severe stress on biodiversity and wild habitats. In this report of 2018, India has a total number of 683 animal species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable categories, compared to 646 species in 2014 In this context, notice may be taken of the averment made by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

According to a World Wildlife Fund India's programme director, Sejal Worah, India has lost 12 percent of its wild mammals, 19 percent of amphibians and 3 per cent of its birds over the last five decades. Of about 0.1 million animal species, as recorded in the country till December 2019, about 6,800 are vertebrates. Nearly 550 of these falls in the critically endangered, and vulnerable categories, according to the Zoological Survey of India. The vertebrate population has been declining at a rate of about 60 per cent in India, a figure near the global benchmark. According to a NITI Aayog study, 820 million people in 12 river basins in India face high-to-extreme water stress. Almost a third of Indian wetlands have been affected under the combined pressure of urbanisation, agricultural activities, and pollution.

As per the Indian factsheet provided by WWF India, the Living Planet Index indicates India's ecological footprint accounts for less than 1.6 global hectares (gha) per person (smaller than that of many large countries), its high population size has made the gross population size significantly high. Further, according to the National Footprints Accounts (2014), "India has a bio-capacity of approximately 0.45 gha per person, which means it is a 'biocapacity debtor’ or an 'ecologically deficit country' with a 148 percent more demand than supply on its natural resources.” In this regard, the five major reasons behind the biodiversity loss across the planet include changes in land and sea use (habitat loss and degradation), overexploitation of species, invasive species and disease, pollution, and climate change. It holds true about India too. Here, it would be worthwhile to study the biodiversity loss in different fields in the Indian context as such:

Status of Wildlife (fauna) Extinction:

India has about 6.49 percent of all the fauna species in the world, according to Kailash Chandra, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI). Out of these, among mammals, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), are considered extinct in India. In addition, the pink-headed duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllacea) is feared extinct, and the Himalayan quail (Ophrysia superciliosa) was last reported in 1876. Further, there are 889 varieties of rare and threatened vertebrates and invertebrates in the country. The total conservation areas in India amount to 0.9 million km2. According to a document released by the 2020 Conference of Parties of CMS, there was about 70 percent decline in the population of species that are given the highest rate of protection under Appendix I of the Convention which deals with "Migratory species under threat, despite international protection, p.327" The Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) too has raised the alarm. This is a worldwide position. In this context, the initiative to preserve the tiger population in India is worth mentioning here. Though India is home to 70 percent of the world's tiger population, their numbers went on receding rapidly. In order to prevent this tendency, the Government of India started Project Tiger in 1973. In the last tiger census of 2018, the tiger population in the country was estimated to be 2,967, showing an increase of about 30 percent compared to the report of 2014 (2,226). There are now 50 tiger reserves in 18 states in the country compared to 9 in 1973. This steady growth is the outcome of State support, vigilance and conservation efforts by the Forest department, and the involvement of local communities that help secure forests and participate in ecotourism activities in their areas. However, at the same time, The Management Effectiveness Evaluation of Tiger Reserves 2018 report says that at least half of the 50 tiger reserves are facing threats from linear infrastructure such as roads, highways and railway lines, fragmented forest corridors, poaching, pressure of human-wildlife conflict, mining improper garbage disposal, and pollution. Moreover, about 20 percent of the reserves have unsustainable pressure from pilgrims visiting temples inside them. Keeping in view the conservation efforts undertaken by the Indian government, these factors need to be sincerely addressed.

In India, one-horned rhinos were declared endangered species in 1975. But this category was downgraded to "vulnerable" in 2008. Assam has the largest population of one-horned rhinos in the world, numbering about 2,600. There has been an international ban on rhino horn trade since 1977. However, extensive illegal trade persists through Asia because of its supposed traditional use as ingredient in medicine in China and some South Asian countries. Till August 2021, poachers had killed 22 one-horned rhinos in the state of Assam since 2017 and that till June 2021, 644 poachers had been arrested for the crime. By April 2021, Assam had successfully increased its rhino population to 3,000 as targeted under Indian Rhino Vision 2020. It may be noted here that Kaziranga wildlife sanctuary in Assam is the largest repository of one-horn rhinos in India.

Between 2018 and 2020, about 2,054 cases were registered for killing or illegal trafficking of wild animals in India, according to the Central Government statistics. In this period, about 3,836 accused were arrested for the crime.

1. Extinction of Marine Life:

A dead Olive Ridley Turtle washed ashore in at Gahirmatha beach, Odisha, India

(a) Olive Ridley Turtles -

They are an endangered species in India. They are generally found in the state of Odisha. In March 2022, a record 1,14,305 Olive Ridley turtles arrived for their annual mass nesting at the mouth of river Rushikulya in Odisha's Ganjam district. This is the second largest breeding ground in India after Gahirmatha beach in Kendrapara district in Odisha. The concerns were raised by the wildlife experts over the sea erosion and changing course of the river triggered by changing climatic conditions that may create problems for the turtle as climbing up the beach for nesting will be tough for them. ( Further, in order to check the killing and illegal trafficking of the turtles, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) had launched operation "Save Kurma" from December 2016 to January 2017 to focus on the poaching, transportation and illegal trade of live turtles and tortoises. More than 15,912 live turtles were seized and the arrest of 55 suspects was carried out during the operation. Another operation "Operation Turtshield-I from December 2019 to January 2020 and "Operation Turtshield-II from December 2020 to February 2021 was initiated to tackle the illegal trade of live turtles that resulted in the seizure of 4,601 live/dead turtles and arrest of 45 accused in the first operation. A recovery of 11,771 live turtles/tortoises and 45 kilograms of turtle calipee had resulted in the second operation, while 59 accused were arrested. Not only this but also, on May 23,2020, World Turtle Day, a mobile-based application called Kurma, was launched by a number of conservation agencies. This is aimed at turtle conservation. This application has been developed by the Indian Turtle Conservation Action Network (ITCAN) in collaboration with the Turtle Survival Alliance India and Wildlife Conservation Society-India which provides users a database to identify a species and the location of the nearest rescue centre for turtles across the country.

(b) Gangetic Dolphins

The Gangetic Dolphin (Platanista gangetica) is the National Aquatic Animal of India. The then Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh declared it on October 5,2009, while chairing the maiden meeting of the National River Basin Authority. The Gangetic Dolphins remain listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. After the launch of Ganga Action Plan in 1985, the Government of India on November 24, 1986 included Gangetic Dolphins in the First Schedule of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. This was directed to checking hunting and providing conservation facilities such as wildlife sanctuaries. For example, Vikramshila Ganges Dolphin Sanctuary was established in Bihar under this Act. The government also prepared the Conservation Action Plan for the Ganges River Basin 2010-2020, which 'identified threats to Gangetic Dolphins and impact of river traffic, irrigation canals and depletion of prey-base on Dolphins populations'. On Independence Day, 15 August 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the government's plan to launch a Project Dolphin. Its aim is to save both river and marine Dolphins.

In the past, Gangetic Dolphins could be spotted in the Ganga at several places, from its delta in the Bay of Bengal to upstream in the Himalayan foothills. It was also found in the Ganga's tributaries. However, the construction of dams and barrages, and increasing pollution have led to a decline in numbers of the dolphins. According to Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Babul Supriyo, as told during the Lok Sabha session in 2019, there were 1,272 dolphins in Uttar Pradesh and 962 in Assam. This shows clearly the declining trend in the dolphins' population across the country in a rapid manner. The Conservation Action Plan for the Ganges River Dolphin 2010-2020, envisages male dolphins as being about 2-2.2 metres long and females as a little longer at 2.4-2.6 metres. An adult dolphin could weigh between 70 kg and 90 kg. The breeding season of the Gangetic dolphin extends from January and June.

(c) Fish

As per the confirmed view of modern evolutionary biology, fish are the earliest vertebrates i.e. organisms having a spinal column, and therefore, could be the ancestors of crocodiles, birds and bats, monkeys, apes and human beings as well. There are 34,000 known fish species in the world. Out of these, 2,799 species are found in Indian waters. Out of 305 threatened species in India, 28 are critically endangered, 86 are endangered, 46 are vulnerable and 28 are near threatened. Further, according to the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources (NBFGR) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), at least 120 freshwater fish species in the country are threatened, and 71 of the threatened species are endangered. A survey conducted by NBFGR reveals a continuous decline in the quantity of fish availability from the major rivers in India on a daily basis. Human activities are single-handedly responsible for this decline of fish population. The reasons are many. First, the physical changes have brought their habitat, restricting their distribution, affecting their reproduction. Secondly, chemical pollutants have also further reduced their fitness and increased mortality. Thirdly, overfishing has further contributed to their reduced number. Indiscriminate fishing and destruction by the application of dynamite in the water bodies or the usage of chemicals has resulted in killing of both the desired as well as undesired fish, of all sizes. It has further accelerated the population crash and reduction in breeding population. Recently, dumping of plastic material into the rivers and seas is adding to the mortality rate of fish species. Lastly, with the introduction of exotic fish varieties, the indigenous fish species have largely been wiped out. Moreover, it has introduced exotic diseases also.

Here, it may be pointed out that while the overall fish production has increased in India, the share of marine fish has been on a continuous decline. The total marine fish constituted 71 percent of overall fish production in 1950-51. At present, inland fish contribute 71 percent of the production. To ameliorate the current situation, it is imperative on the government's part that the fisherfolk community along with other rural communities be taken into confidence and involved in sustainable harvesting and rearing activities. Sustainable fish management involves a mix of good science, understanding fish and their habitat and understanding human needs. Unfortunately, the successive governments at the Centre and the States have not yet come up with any such scheme or planning to stem the rot as far as marine fish farming is concerned.

(d) Amphibians -

Amphibians (majority being frogs and toads among caecilians, newts and salamanders) are regarded as the most threatened tetrapod in the world in the wake of climate change. They are known to be biologically sensitive species. In India, there are 187 threatened species of amphibians. Out of them, 20 are critically endangered, 33 are endangered, 22 vulnerable and 12 are near threatened species. Approximately, 32.5 percent of different species of amphibians are threatened by destruction of habitat, disease and climate change. Presently, there are no appropriate policies or programmes to conserve the endangered species of amphibians in the country.

(e) Insects -

In comparison to the 80 percent decline in insect population in Europe, the situation in India is not as dismal. It is mainly because of the establishment of the protected areas set up in the 1880s during the British rule in India. So far no Indian insect is recorded as extinct. In butterflies, the best studied group of insects, almost all the known species have been reported in the recent past. Similar is the case of spiders. 59 families of spiders are generally found in India. According to a study published in the journal, Science of Nature, spiders are voracious eaters and consume an estimated 400-800 tonnes of insects annually and play a critical role in the ecosystem. Spiders often act as domestic, Agri-based and environmental controllers of pests. However, insets are dying due to indiscriminate marketing and spraying of deadly poisons such as glyphosates as user-friendly pest eliminators. This has resulted in untold damage to non-targeted insect communities. Kerala and Sikkim have banned the use of such chemicals, but rest of the states have to follow suit. The widespread use of non-degrading chemicals designed to kill insects needs to be curbed without any further delay. Insects are a necessary ingredient of a robust ecosystem.

(f) Birds -

In India, there are 173 endangered species of birds. Out of this number, 17 are critically endangered, 21 are endangered, 53 vulnerable and 82 are near threatened. According to a report of the State of India's Birds 2020, the population of raptors, a group of preying birds, is declining. This report was released at the 13th Conference of Parties (CoP) of the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals' (CMS). In this report, scavenger birds such as vultures were also included in this category. Raptors are typically vertebrates who are high on the food chain, like the mammalian carnivore tigers. They are, often sensitive to environmental changes. The raptors, belonging to specialised habitats, can decline in case of degradation or loss of such habitats. Some species are suscept to toxin bioaccumulation. Further, as per the report, generalist species which occupy a range of habitats including human habitats, and woodland species appear to have suffered the minimum decline over the years. However, all woodland species, and White-eyed Buzzard and Common Kestrel belonging to generalists, continue to decline at a lower rate. Contrarily, open country specialists point out a particularly strong decline both in the long term, and also at present. Although Black-winged Kite and Western Marsh Harrier have shown trends that are roughly stable in the long run. According to the report, water birds are also on the decline. These species are sensitive to changes in water, vegetation and the substrate quality of their habitats. Migratory shorebirds and gulls and terns appear to have declined the most. However, other resident waterbirds like swamphens, coots and storks also show clearly discernible decline. Among habitat specialists, forest species have been the worst sufferer, followed by grassland or shrubland and wetland species. The said report explored the status of 867 bird species, using data uploaded by birdwatchers to the online "eBird" platform. Annual trends estimated for 146 species disclosed that the populations of nearly 80 percent species were declining, with almost 50 percent species declining strongly. Further, a little over 6 percent were stable and 14 percent increasing. The population of 126 species were found to be either stable or increasing, including the popular House Sparrow, as well as the Indian Peafowl, Asian Koel, Rose-ringed Parakeet and Common Tailorbird. In this context, it is worth mentioning here that the plunge in the number of vultures is attributable to the use of a drug, diclofenac that is used to relieve fever in livestock. It causes kidney failure in vultures, when they consume carcasses of animals that had been treated with it, recently. Rohan Shringarpure, a scientist with the Bombay Natural History Society, said that the vulture population across the country has come down to 1 percent. Like vultures, great Indian Bustard is mainly found in the deserts of Rajasthan where their number is dwindling fast, mainly due to illegal poaching. In order to save birds from extinction, policy and conservation need an innovative look. India is a party to the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD). This Convention calls for Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECM). These are tools that don't always exist in land records like national parks. Rather, they comprise informally conservative places. India is a diverse country and OECMs should form a bulwark for conservation. Sacred groves, private lands, community areas and institutional campuses can all form OECMs. There is a need for native habitats like open scrub and thorn forest, more than gardens with foreign plants.

(g) Flora -

There are nearly 50,000 known plant species in India. 23 percent of these plants are endemic to the region. At the same time, over two in every 100 flowering plants species are vulnerable and face extinction. There are 438 numbers of threatened plant species in the country. Of these, 95 percent are angiosperms or flowering plants, which include the economically important plants, including food crops. Out of these threatened plant species,12 are Gymnosperms or flowerless plants,416 are Angiosperms or flowering plants. Besides that, 7 belong to Bryophytes, plant species that reproduce via spores rather than flowers or seeds, 2 are Pteridophytes, the vascular plants that disperses spores, and 1 Fungi plant. Grasslands are excellent habitat for flora. Habitat loss is directly responsible for the loss of diversity here. However, plant species are less prone to extinction in grasslands. According to A.A.A. Mao, Director of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) said that India is home to 11.5 percent of all flora in the world. According to the IUCN, a new study has shown that since 1750, more than double the number of plants have disappeared from the wild than birds, mammals and amphibians combined. As per the data tabled in the Lok Sabha by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in July 2019, 18 species of flora have gone extinct in India in the past few centuries. However, there are some positive indicators too. In its annual report, 'Plant Discoveries 2019,' the Botanical Survey of India has listed 180 new plant species and 73 species spotted for the first time in the country. Moreover, according to a publication of the Botanical Survey of India, Flora of Sikkim-A Pictorial Guide, shows that Sikkim, the smallest State with less than 1 percent of India's population, is home to 27 percent of all flowering plants found in the country. This raises a glimmer of hope for the conservation of flora, especially the flowering plants in the country. Sikkim is almost free from those factors which deteriorate the quality of biodiversity.

(h) Wetlands -

Wetlands are shallow water bodies spread over an area of at least 3 hectares or those with water as deep as 30 cm for a period of six months. Wetlands are declared Ramsar sites under an international treaty, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 1971. Its aim is to develop and maintain an international network of wetlands, which are important for conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the maintenance of ecosystem components, processes and benefits. According to the Global Wetland Outlook by the Ramsar Convention, wetlands, among the world's most economically valuable ecosystems and regulators of the global climate, are disappearing three times faster than forests. India is no exception in this regard. Wetlands are under constant threat for the reasons including water drainage, pollution, unsustainable use, invasive species, deforestation, and soil erosion. The unprecedented growth of real estate developers in India has largely contributed to fast disappearing wetlands, especially in urban areas. However, recent efforts by the central and state governments have proved to be successful in reversing the trend so far. As a result, India now has 49 Ramsar Sites, being the largest network of Ramsar Sites, for any country in South Asia. In 2020, six of them have been declared Ramsar Sites this year in Uttar Pradesh only. Under India's National Wildlife Action Plan (2017-2031), conservation of inland aquatic ecosystems has been put as one of the 17 priority areas. This Plan envisages the development of a national wetlands mission and a national wetlands biodiversity register as critical interventions. Moreover, the integration of wetlands in river basin management has been identified as a strategy for the management of river systems. The required protection to wetlands has been provided by many central rules and regulations. The regulatory framework for wetlands located within forests and designated protected areas have been defined in the Indian Forest Act, 1927, the Forest (Conservation)Act, 1980, and the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. In 2017, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), notified the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules under the Environment (Protection)Act, 1986 (EP Act). Under these rules, state wetlands authorities have been constituted as the main policy and regulatory bodies within states. Further, coastal wetlands are protected under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification (2018) and the Island Protection Zone (IPZ) Notification 2021, under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. In 2020, the ministry ((MoEFCC) took up "wetlands rejuvenation" as a transformative idea. The programme envisages a four-cornered approach including developing baseline information, rapid assessment of wetlands' condition using a set of parameters in the form of wetland health cards, enabling stakeholder’s platforms in the form of wetland mitra (friend) and management planning. The programme is scheduled to cover over 500 wetlands. A national wetlands portal has also been developed as a knowledge hub on wetlands for use of all wetlands managers and stakeholders. Wetland mitras have been registered in all significant wetlands and value and threat signages have been installed in these wetlands, as a part of currently running "Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav" celebrations. Undoubtedly, wetlands support high concentrations of biodiversity. They also offer a wide range of important resources and ecological functions such as food, water, fibre, groundwater recharge, water purification, flood moderation, storm protection, erosion control, carbon storage and climate regulation.

(i) Forests and Trees -

As per the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 brought about by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, India ranked third among the top 10 countries that had gained in forest areas in the last decade (2010-2020). It further states that India accounted for 2 percent of total global forest area. In the decade under assessment, India reported 0.38 percent annual average gain in forest, or 266,000 ha of forest increase per year. The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 has credited the government's Joint Forest Management programme for the significant increase in community-managed forest areas by stating "The forest area managed by local, tribal and indigenous communities in India increased from zero in 1990 to about 25 million ha in 2015". At the same time, it may be noted that the naturally regenerating forest rate is disappointing, according to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020. India has been pursuing massive afforestation and plantation schemes. In the decade 2010-2020, the rate of increase in naturally regenerating forest was just 0.38 percent. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released India State of Forest Report 2019 (IFSR 2019) on July 28,2020, which reported an increase of 5,188 square kilometres of forest and tree cover across the country. This report is contradicted by experts. Their main argument is that forest and tree cover are different from forest land. The need of the hour is to sincerely increase the afforestation process of all the lands designated as forest under different categories. Moreover, the plants of indigenous species should be given priority over the exotic varieties, as these species easily adapt to the local conditions and also sustain for a long period.

In regard to trees, according to the State of the World's Trees report, published by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), a UK-based plant conservation non-profit, and Global Tree Specialist Group under IUCN/SSC, in September 2021, India has a total of 2,608 tree species, of which 651 are endemic. A total of 413 species (18 percent) are threatened with extinction. Two endemic species, Hopea Shingkeng and Sterculia Khasiana are already extinct, while Corypha taliera is extinct in the wild. Rest of the species fall in the IUCN categories of "critically endangered" (55 species), "endangered" (136 species), "vulnerable" (113 species), "near threatened" (49 species), "least concern" (736 species), "data deficient" (57 species) and "not evaluated" (1,459 species). Only 55 threatened species are found in ex-situ collections for conservation outside their natural habitat and around 57 in protected area networks like parks and reserves. Since forest and tree conservation is mandated by national and international policies and legislation, these pose an urgent need to prioritise their conservation on the part of the governments.

Biodiversity Hotspots in India

In 1999, Conservation International (CI) identified 25 global biodiversity hotspots which hold high numbers of endemic species, yet their combined area of remaining habitat covers only 2.3 percent of the Earth's land surface. Each hotspot faces extreme threats and at least 70 percent of its original natural vegetation has been lost over the years. Over 50 percent of the world's plant species and 42 percent of all terrestrial vertebrate species are endemic to the 35 biodiversity hotspots. In India, there are the following hotspots:

  • Himalaya: Indian Himalayan region (and that falling in Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar).
  • Sundalands: Nicobar group of Islands (and Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines).
  • Western Ghats (and Sri Lanka)
  • Indo-Burma: North-eastern India except Assam and Andaman group of Islands (and Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and southern China).

Out of these, the biodiversity condition of Western Ghats is reportedly deteriorating gradually and requires urgent policy interventions on the part of state and central governments.

Biogeographic Zones:

There are 11 biogeographic zones in India. They are Trans-Himalayan, Himalayan, Indian Desert, Semi-arid, Western Ghats, Deccan Peninsula, Gangetic Plains, Coasts, North-East and Islands. These zones together consist of 25 biogeographic provinces. The aim is to designate one representative site as Biosphere Reserve in each biogeographic province for long-time conservation.

Government Initiatives on Biodiversity Conservation:

India had ratified the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in 1994. Pursuant to this ratification, several measures have been undertaken by the Government of India to meet the commitments under the Convention. These efforts amounted to bringing the legislative, administrative and policy interventions in tune with the three-pronged objectives of the CBD. First of all, the Biological Diversity Act was enacted in 2002 to give effect to the provision of this Convention. Further, a National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP) was also formulated in 2008, and an Addendum to NBAP in 2014 with 20 national targets on biodiversity.

1. Biosphere Reserves:

This concept was initiated by UNESCO in 1973-74 under its Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme. The Indian National Man and Biosphere Committee identifies and recommends potential sites for designation as Biosphere Reserves in pursuance of UNESCO's guidelines and criteria. Presently, there are 18 designated Biosphere Reserves in India. Out of these, 10 Biosphere Reserves have been included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of UNESCO. Concerned state/UT governments, environment and forest departments/line departments are the implementing authorities. Lead Institutes, identified for the Biosphere Reserves, conduct research activities on the sanctioned projects. Periodic reviews and progress reports are monitored and evaluated by experts. The evaluation of the completed report is done by the designated committee. The Biographical Reserves in India include Nilgiri (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka), Nanda Devi (Uttarakhand), Nokrek (Meghalaya), Manas (Asom), Dibru-Saikhowa (Assam), Sundarban (West Bengal), Gulf of Mannar (Tamil Nadu), Great Nicobar (Andaman & Nicobar Islands), Simlipal (Odisha), Dehang-Debang (Arunachal Pradesh), Khangchendzonga (Sikkim), Pachmarhi (Madhya Pradesh), Achanakmar-Amarkantak (Chhattisgarh), Agasthyamalai (Tamil Nadu, Kerala), Kachchh (Gujarat), Cold Desert (Himachal Pradesh), Seshachalam (Andhra Pradesh), and Panna (Madhya Pradesh).

2. Biodiversity Conservation Scheme Relating to Biosafety:

The scheme on Biodiversity Conservation was initiated during 1991-92 during the Eight Five-Year Plan period which was aimed at ensuring coordination among various agencies dealing with the issues relating to conservation of biodiversity, and to review, monitor and evolve adequate policy instruments for the same. Its prime objective is the implementation of Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, UNEP-GEF supported Capacity Building Project on Biosafety (Phase-II) and strengthening of Biosafety Management System.

Western Ghats and the Biodiversity

Western Ghats, Kudremukh National Park, Karnataka

In India, Western Ghats represents a wide range of biodiversity. It is arguably the richest biodiversity zone in the country, so much so that in 2012, 39 areas covering national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and reserved forests in the Western Ghats were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. These sites are crucial for their biodiversity value. However, the problem arose when the forest officials began to identify the potential heritage sites. There was a visible unrest among the indigenous people as they feared for their existence in land, inhabited by them for decades. The restrictions on their movements in the wake of declaration of these territories as ecologically sensitive areas further added to their woes. Here, it is pertinent to note that the Global Environment Outlook Report 5 says that there is decreased biodiversity across the globe even as "protected areas" have been expanding. Therefore, it is important to understand that people living in nature's surroundings form an integral part of conservation efforts of the government agencies, as their relation to it is more integrated and spiritual. In 2019, at least 100 people died in floods in three states in peninsular India namely, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. The prime reasons for this tragedy have been (i) changes in land-use pattern, (ii) excessive quarrying and unscientific plantation (Kerala), (iii) poor management of dams (Maharashtra), (iv) and lack of eco-sensitivity on the part of these Western Ghat states. The disaster in Western Ghats is a reminder of the fact that the whole area is very vulnerable. So, we have to tread with caution.

The Biodiversity Amendment Act, 2002 and the Amendment Bill, 2021:

The Biological Diversity Act,2002 was enacted in India to give effect to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 1992, It is aimed at striving for sustainable, fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of biological resources and associated traditional knowledge. In this regard, the Act envisages a three-tier structure which consists of a National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the national level, State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) at the State level and Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at local bodies levels. The BMCs are primarily responsible for documenting local biodiversity and associated knowledge in the form of a People's Biodiversity Register.

The amended Bill has come up in response to complaints by the traditional Indian medical practitioners, the seed sector, and industry and researchers to the effect that the Act imposed an onerous 'compliance burden' and made it difficult to conduct collaborative research and investments and simplify patent application processes. The amended Bill seeks to (i) reduce the pressure on wild medicinal plants by way of encouragement on their cultivation; (ii) exempts practitioners of Aayush from intimating Biodiversity Boards for accessing biological resources or knowledge; (iii) simplifies the patent application process; (iv) decriminalises certain offences; and (v) aims to attract more foreign investments in biological resources, research, patent and commercial utilisation, without compromising national interest.

The proposed amendments have been criticised by many legal and environmental experts on the following grounds: (i) The Amendment Bill was introduced without seeking public comments:(ii) The changes have been proposed with the sole intention to provide benefit to the growing Aayush industry in the country and may open the doors for bio piracy;(iii) The main focus of the Bill is to facilitate trade in biodiversity in contrast to conservation, protection of biodiversity and knowledge of local communities; (iv) There is no provision in the proposed Amendment to protect, conserve or increase the stake of local communities, the rightful owners of bioresources, in the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity. The Bill was introduced on December 17,2021 in the Lok Sabha, and it was referred to a 21-member Joint Parliamentary Committee on December 20,2021 for detailed scrutiny of the Amendment Bill. It is supposed to be tabled before the Lok Sabha in the next Budget session.


India is one of the few megadiverse countries, and one that gave due importance to the role nature played in our lives. At the same time, it clearly understood the destructive impact of unregulated resource exploitation. Indians take pride in their ancient conservation traditions. However, in the last few decades, India is losing on the biodiversity count. The reasons are manifold, and obvious. With the expanding population, habitation and other development activities follow suit. Besides that, excessive quarrying, and mining to extract greedily our natural resources, illegal cutting of woods for industrial purposes, expansion of tourism in biodiversity-rich places, replacing indigenous varieties of plants with the exotic plants, using poisonous chemicals in pesticides and insecticides affecting the quality of soil, illegal poaching and trading of birds and wild animals etc. are the prominent causes amounting to the loss of biodiversity. The list is an exhaustive one and does not end here. Though India is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and has passed several rules and regulations in this regard, there is no denying the fact that the slide has begun. This is the high time we took up this challenge and tried to stem the rot. But the solution lies in the amalgamated efforts of the government and the people. Only making laws will not be sufficient. People need to be made aware by educating them about the consequences of loss of biodiversity. The conservation of biodiversity has to become a people's movement in the country. At the same time, the duty of the government is to plug the loopholes in the corresponding laws and to implement those laws, rules and regulations with vigour and dedication. The governments should always keep in mind that a fair balance has to be maintained between the development and the biodiversity conservation. It needs to be stressed here that the loss of biodiversity will ultimately pave the way for extinction of humanity as such.

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